Rethinking the history of female circumcision and clitoridectomy: American medicine and female sexuality in the late nineteenth century

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19 Scopus citations

Abstract

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there was one kind of female orgasm and it was clitoral; there was also only one kind of healthy sexual instinct for a woman and it was for penetrative sex with her husband. When a woman behaved outside of this normality - by masturbating or by not responding to her husband's affections - her sexual instinct was seen as disordered. If healthy women, then, were believed only to be sexual within the marital embrace, what better way to explain these errant behaviors than by blaming the clitoris, an organ seen as key to female sexual instinct? Doctors corrected a clitoris in an unhealthy state using one of four surgeries - removing smegma or adhesions between the clitoris and its hood, removing the hood (circumcision), or removing the clitoris (clitoridectomy) - in order to correct a woman's sexual instinct in an unhealthy state. Their approach to clitoral surgery, at least as revealed in published medical works, was a cautious one that respected the importance of clitoral stimulation for healthy sexuality while simultaneously recognizing its role as cause and symptom in cases of insanity that were tied to masturbation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)323-347
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
Volume63
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 1 2008

Keywords

  • Clitoridectomy
  • Clitoris
  • Female circumcision
  • Female sexuality
  • Masturbation
  • Medical history

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology

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